Monday, February 29, 2016

A Pie-in-the-Face Update

Last year, I posted a piece about the history of pie-in-the-face humor.

(See, Homelessness, Hunger and Domestic Violence - a Serious History of the Pie-in-the-Face Gag.)

In that piece, I traced the origins of pie-in-the-face humor from a burlesque, parody of a Broadway show that premiered in 1898.  In the show, The Con-Curers (a parody of The Conquerers) the heroine threw a custard pie (or cream pie) in the face of an officer of an occupying foreign force, in place of the glass of wine thrown in the officer's face in the original.  The bit was well reviewed and reported to have been inventive; there was no suggestion that the bit was old, tired, or common before that time.

There also seems to be a straight line from that play to the development of standard pie-in-the-face gag.  The play had a long run, and toured, so many people in many places had a chance to see the bit.  Within a few years, pie-in-the-face jokes appeared frequently in print, the bit was borrowed by comedians in other shows, and the gag appeared in an early motion picture - at least as early as 1905.

But recently, while researching the history of the phrase, "as American as Apple Pie," I ran across an older - MUCH older - comedic pie in the face.  It's from a comic novel published in 1709, based on a French translation of a story originally told in "mixt Italian, a Speech Corrupted, and now much in Use thro' all the Islands of the Mediterranean . . . ." Like so many of the thrown-pies discussed in my earlier piece, this pie was also thrown in anger in an episode of domestic violence; in this case, a Priest's wife attacking her Priest-husband. 

The episode is told twice, Roshomon-like, from two different perspectives, once from the perspective of an eyewitness and once from the perspective of the Priest:

[Eyewitness Account]

The fight was pleasant enough, an old thin raw-bon’d Priest, in his Sacerdotal-Habit, combating his Wife, who buffeted him again, and seem’d to be the Aggressor.  He had not only lost his Hat and Peruke in the Scuffle, but his Face look’d all over besmear’d with something, no Body could tell what; but at last it was known to be piping Hot Apple-Pye, out of the Oven, which she had scalded him with, in a very handsome manner, but was so kind to throw a Pound of Butter immediately after, to cool him again.

[Priest's Account]

I had been abroad to Day about my Business, and had miss’d my Dinner; coming home, I ask’d for something to eat; she had took care, (after dining plentifully her self) that there should be nothing left for me.  One of the Maids whispered me, that there was a large Apple-Pye in the Oven to be kept hot for the Gentleman’s Supper, but I was to know nothing of it.  Being pretty sharp-set, I went to the Oven, as by Instinct, out I drew the Pye, got a Plate of Butter, and fell to buttering of it in happy Security, as I thought, because she had retir’d to her Closet, pleas’d with putting the Victuals out of the way, that I should have nothing to eat.  The Devil would not let her rest long without tormenting of poor me; down she comes, and before I was aware, snatches the Pye, and by a dexterous whirl of her Hand, sends it full in my Face and Eyes; the Plate of Butter follow’d, then the Tankard full of Drink, and, in short, whatever came next.

Mrs. Manley (Mary de la Reviere), Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, of Both Sexes, from the New Atlantis, an Island in the Mediterranean (2d Edition), London, Printed for John Morphew, 1709, pages 158 and 162.

I guess it's true what they say, there is nothing new under the sun.

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